13. “Moving up” — Recovery, Part 3

Today, I embrace my potential to be, do, and have whatever I can dream.

 

I had meditated on that inspiring statement, courtesy of Deepak Chopra, the morning after the cancer support meeting and pondered it for the remainder of the day.

As if by magic, the term “downsizing” kept flashing through my mind each time I did. Even though I had been very happy in my two-bedroom apartment for the past 16 years, I had contemplated moving into a smaller place for a while, and for good reason. My second bedroom had morphed into a glorified multipurpose room in which to exercise, store books, and welcome my two annual overnight guests, my twin sister and the friend who took care of me after my surgery.

According to my financial advisor, if I — as a person who has always been good at stashing away money because I prefer to live below my means — invested most of what I would save each month over the course of the next decade, it would make a huge difference to my long-term retirement plans.

Specifically, I would be able to quit my university professor job before I turned 65 and could afford to live in the same, but more expensive, town as my twin sister. Encouraged by that prospect, I had even viewed an available one-bedroom flat in my building in February 2020. When the pandemic hit shortly after and I needed to teach from home, I ditched the idea. I never let it go entirely, however, and in the early summer and fall I intentionally decluttered every single closet and cupboard in my apartment.

Maybe I was ready now?

My trusted neighbour promptly argued that moving was strenuous at the best of times. Moreover, I had only just finished my last chemo treatment and needed to rest up for the upcoming radiation therapy appointments. “True,” I said.

Most importantly, my neighbour emphasized that even if I moved only within my building, I would still have to hire outside help during a pandemic. “Very true,” I admitted.

She advised, therefore, to wait unless I was unhappy with my place or could no longer afford it, neither of which was the case in late January 2021.

When I woke up the next morning, I asked the universe to give me a sign as to whether to stay put or move was the right thing to do. “It will require a minor miracle,” I concluded.

Two hours later, the caretaker knocked on my door to let me know about some boiler issue of sorts. “It’s now or never,” I said to myself and asked him about the rental situation in the building.

 

Less is more

“There’s a one-bedroom apartment available on the seventh floor, but it does not have a balcony,” he said. “There go my naked balcony cool downs,” I thought, but kept my mouth shut. I would also have to be prepared to surrender my underground parking spot. It was only guaranteed with a two-bedroom unit.

“Would you like me to show it to you?” the caretaker asked.

Facing east

“This is perfect,” I exclaimed upon entering.

Not only was the apartment move-in ready, but the east-facing views were outstanding. The bedroom was also big enough to double as an office of sorts.

Most importantly, the energetic vibrations of the new place were right; I felt at home immediately. My inner child agreed.

At the same time, there was a whole lot less storage space. “I’ll just get rid of more stuff I don’t need anymore,” I decided right there and then — and I meant it. I was not going to turn into my frugal mother who loved canning goods (sweet pears or sour cherries, anyone?) as much as she loved buying laundry soap on sale, only to spend hours organizing them in our dark and creepy cellar.

Many years after her death, I realized that my mom’s slight hoarding tendencies were likely related to her having lived through World War II as a teenager where food was often scarce and detergents that masked odors and musty smells considered a luxury. “When I was your age, we had milk soup for breakfast, lettuce and potatoes for lunch, and potatoes and lettuce for supper,” she would remind us, especially when my twin sister and I dared to complain about a new recipe that had caught her attention (like Sauerkraut with white beans and pineapple).

“There’s no balcony,” the caretaker said, bringing me back into the present. I knew I would do just fine without one. The cold and snowy prairie weather made it unusable for at least five months of the year, if not longer. Would I be okay with parking my car behind the building year-round? “Yes,” I thought. An underground garage had been one of the main reasons that I chose this building many years ago. However, I had always considered it a luxury, not a necessity.

“I got in touch with the rental agent, who was quite thrilled,” I said to the caretaker the next day. “I am not surprised,” he replied, a cancer survivor himself with a dad-like, if not Dalai Lama, vibe. He had been wonderfully supportive over the years and even more caring since my surgery.

“You have been an excellent long-term tenant, and we would hate to lose you,” he said.

“But I will have to be out of this apartment in late March at the very latest or risk losing the new place to someone else who has also expressed interest,” I replied. That scared me because I needed to isolate while undergoing radiation therapy. Moreover, I had been warned that severe fatigue and diarrhea would be my constant companions between mid-February and mid-April.

“Since the apartment is currently empty, would you be willing to move in over the next couple of weeks before you start radiation?” the caretaker asked via text a short time later. “My team and I would move your furniture; you don’t have to even be around that day,” he offered. We agreed on Tuesday, February 9, 2021.

“What about the pieces of furniture I don’t want to take with me?” I asked him. “And I will not have the energy to clean my place from top to bottom,” I added.

“Leave that all to me, sunshine,” the caretaker said with a big smile.

“Wow,” I thought, filled with infinite gratitude.

The universe had not only sent me an unmistakable sign, but also removed all obstacles from my dream of downsizing in record time. In hindsight, this was the biggest of the small miracles that occurred during my journey back to health, as it signalled a new beginning, inside and out.

 

One box at a time

My sisters, while pleased to hear my news, took turns reminding me not to rush the process of going through my belongings. They were wasting their time, as far as I was concerned: my body made sure I would not forget that I still needed a considerable amount of downtime.

My trusted neighbour was surprised as well, but happy that the caretaker had come through on my behalf. “Do you want me to clean the kitchen cupboards on the weekend so you can start putting stuff in them?” she asked. “Yes, that would be wonderful; thank you so much,” I replied. Her partner, as well as the friends who had helped me with setting up my new TV, immediately volunteered to look after anything I wished to donate.

What I was not prepared for, or perhaps tried to ignore, was the fact that moving, especially in record time, would be emotionally draining. Keep — donate — or toss? was my daily mantra, as I filled boxes and bags with seemingly random “stuff”. I tagged them so as not to lose sight of what was to go where, with whom, and when.

“How can an individual living by herself have that many saggy pillows, old towels, and useless kitchen utensils?” I asked myself more than once during my sorting efforts. It made me think of my beloved university office, parts of which were overflowing with books I had been given but never read, CDs I had bought but never listened to, and way too many binders with paperwork that could have been shredded years ago. Had I perhaps inherited some of my mother’s hoarding tendencies after all? If so, I was more determined than ever not to let them get the better of me.

When a large box suddenly showed up at the back of my pantry, I admitted to myself that going through my earthly possessions was long overdue. I had never opened it since my move from Vancouver Island to Saskatchewan many years ago. To my genuine surprise, it contained books in German from my parents’ library as well as several different types of yarn. Since I had not missed reading German translations of Readers’ Digest Condensed Books from the 1970s and given up knitting in the late 1980s to focus on my academic studies, I promptly added the box to the “donate” pile. I laughed out loud when my main guide and inner child spontaneously offered a round of applause.

“My overall goal is to keep my environmental footprint as small as possible,” I said to my MD friend when I told her about my plans to move within the building.

To that end, five carloads of stuff ranging from countless romance novels to a multitude of plastic clothes hangers were delivered to the local thrift store. Five big garbage bags filled with used but perfectly fine bedding, towels, clothing, and various household items went to a local organization that supported the most marginalized members of the community. Finally, five duffle bags with paper files found their way to my office at the university.

I concluded that it felt good to let go of stuff – and not just because there would be less of it to clean. Surrounding myself with fewer material possessions would allow more healing energy to flow throughout my apartment. In other words, it would help me get better faster. “I agree wholeheartedly,” said my top-hatted guide, much to my delight.

I also shed many tears of gratitude when the caretaker told me that he had found a good home for the furniture I did want not to take with me.

“Your generous heart will make a huge difference in that person’s life,” he assured me.

“I am only paying it forward,” I replied.

 

Three little pokes

“I have an appointment at 9 am,” I said to the security officer at the hospital on Friday, February 5, 2021.  His job was to screen patients receiving radiation therapy in the basement of the cancer clinic.

“Were you contacted yesterday and asked the standard Covid-19 questions?”

“Yes.”

“Any changes since then?”

“No.”

Then, he checked the time on his phone. “You are here too early; please leave this area and return in five minutes.”

“But I was told by the nurse who called me to arrive 10 minutes before my appointment.”

The look on his face clearly indicated that resistance on my part was futile. A lady who had arrived after me piped up to tell him that she had been given the exact same instructions. “I will have to have a word with the staff around here,” he muttered, dead-serious but with a smile in his eyes, and waved us both through.

“Welcome to your CT simulation appointment,” the nurse said when I checked in at the reception 30 seconds later. “You will have to drink 500 ml of water and then wait here for 45 minutes before the actual scan is taken,” she explained.

Then, she provided more information on what my 28-day treatment schedule was going to look like. “Your first appointment will be on Wednesday, February 17,” she said, handing me a printout with more information; I was to bring it with me that day. “Most importantly, don’t make any firm plans between now and March 26,” the nurse emphasized, and for good reason.

Approximately 100 patients were receiving radiation therapy each week (“that many?”). Consequently, only four consecutive appointments would be scheduled at a time, and appointment times would only be confirmed the day before. I would also have to stay longer once a week, when a nurse would assess me, especially once side effects had begun to occur. The vaginal sizing appointment and the three internal treatments would take place closer to the end of March.

“What about the PET scan — has it been scheduled yet?” I wondered.

“We have no control over that,” the nurse responded.

She promised to check with her colleagues at the other hospital. Then, she asked me to sit down in the waiting room — physically distanced from others, of course.

“I had asked to see a dietician this morning,” I said to the nurse who brought me a big paper cup filled with water a few minutes later.

“I am going to call her right now,” she replied.

“The nurse told you to drink water only?” the dietician asked, after sitting down across from me and listening to my questions.

“Yes — it’s been tough,” I moaned, which made her chuckle.

“You can definitely have some herbal tea,” she said, much to my delight.

Next, I asked her about foods to avoid, as the printed material I had been given was not detailed enough for my taste. “The most important thing to remember is to adjust your diet once the symptoms begin; there is nothing you need to do now,” she clarified.

“Have you ever come across patients who had no symptoms whatsoever during radiation?” I asked. The dietician laughed.

“Never,” she said.

Then, she predicted that my bowels, bladder, and vagina would begin to complain about two weeks into the treatments and continue to be unhappy for two weeks afterwards. “Yes, I read that and have stocked up on over-the-counter medication and soft toilet paper already,” I stated.

The dietician also wanted to know more about my current eating habits and provided helpful tips about food substitutions as well. “Bland is best,” she advised, and smiled when I let out a big, frustrated sigh. My mom was forced to serve flavourless meals when my dad was receiving dialysis treatments; flavour enhancers like salt and pepper were strictly off limits. Was that perhaps the real reason why I disliked boring hospital food so much?

The dietician was optimistic. “You’ll be fine,” she said and waved goodbye when yet another nurse came to get me for the CT simulation scan.

“The most exciting thing that we are going to do today is to take X-rays of your pelvic region and mark the area that is going to be radiated externally,” I was told on my way to the treatment room. A hot flash hit when I made myself comfortable on the static exam table.

“May I take off my turban?” I asked. It made me feel pretty every time I wore it.

“Of course,” the nurses said. One of them turned out to be a fellow cancer survivor which made this appointment even more special to me.

“These will be my first tattoos,” I said to her, unexpectedly excited; my oldest nephew had once told me that he always marked special occasions with body art. I was not quite sure whether the three quick pokes qualified as such — I had only felt the one that was closest to my belly scar.

“Has someone talked to you about hygiene and skin irritations during radiation therapy treatments?” the nurse wondered.

“Not yet,” I said.

“Use unscented products only and keep the area well moisturized,” she instructed.

“I will,” I replied and made a mental note to add bar soap and lotion to this week’s shopping list.

 

Are you ready for Tuesday?

On the weekend that preceded my move into the new apartment, I got tired of assuring my relatives and close friends that everything would go just fine. My wonderful caretaker had already taken most of the smaller pieces of furniture upstairs, including two empty bookshelves, a small L-shaped desk, and a comfy office chair which my inner academic had insisted on being taken up first.

Disassembling the desk and putting it together again turned out to be an unexpectedly complicated and time-consuming affair, much to the caretaker’s surprise. Moreover, I had to admit to him after he was finished that I (or “Dr. Barb”?) had messed up: the corner part needed to come off again so as not to compete with my queen-sized bed.

“I bet you rushed through measuring it,” said my trusted neighbour, making me blush.

“No, I blame my ‘chemo brain’!” I quipped.

Since the part of the desk that needed to come off had shelves, I decided that it was going to double as a storage unit inside my bedroom closet. Similarly, my former bedroom dresser was now going to adorn my kitchen and house my huge tea collection plus two junk drawers with stuff I figured would come in handy sometime soon.

In hindsight, I credit my late mother — rather than the many home-renovation shows I had been watching on TV lately — for encouraging me to repurpose items in a creative and sustainable way. Her favourite way to spruce up a room was to apply a fresh coat of paint (“eggshell or off-white?”) and/or hang a new, fashionable wallpaper. “You need to know how to do this kind of stuff yourselves, girls,” my mother would insist, “even if you can afford to hire someone to do it for you.” As a result, I also know my way around a hammer and a screwdriver.

Otherwise, I had found the past ten days of sorting and packing to be exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Why? Because even though it was physically tiring (I quickly realized that for every hour I went through my “stuff,” I would have to rest for several hours), it made me feel once again back in charge of what had been a highly purpose-driven life until my medical team took control in early August 2020.

Moving from the fourth floor up to the seventh floor six months later — that is, after finishing chemotherapy and before beginning radiation treatments — was so much more than a slight modification of my home address. My new apartment number captured, and would continue to reflect, the extent to which I had changed permanently on a physical, mental, and spiritual level ever since my cancer diagnosis.

“I am not surprised, Barb,” my best friend replied when I shared this moving-related epiphany of sorts with her. “You are not the same person anymore — you are a different, better version of yourself now.”

Hallelujah!

On the actual moving day, February 9, 2021, I woke up early and proceeded to check off items from my list of last-minute things to do. I continued to make good use of what had become my favourite transportation device, a big plastic shopping cart that weighed next to nothing, as well as the building elevator. At 9:30 am I informed the caretaker that I was going to rest until he and his crew were ready to get started.

Rolling out the “green carpet”

Then, I laughed — and cried — my way through 16 years of selected memories that flashed through my head as I lay on my big blue sofa with my eyes closed. They included hosting many friends and family, including sisters, nieces, and two adorable nephews from Vancouver Island, over the years; I had rolled out the red (or “green”?) carpet every time they visited.

I had also splurged occasionally on fancy appliances, including a Dyson vacuum cleaner and a Vitamix kitchen machine. And I congratulated myself on purchasing a new, ultra-comfortable mattress in mid-2019 and replacing two aging couches in early 2020 because I had spent a lot of time on them since my diagnosis.

Overall, I had been very happy in this apartment, but was ready to move on or, more precisely, up.

Invoking my favourite post-surgery mantra, I release the past; I accept the present; I welcome the future, was next on my agenda. It prepared me not only perfectly for expressing my deep and sincere gratitude to the universe, but also turned out to be an unexpectedly healing activity. “If only I could give every single person who has made a difference in my life to date a big thank-you hug right now,” I thought. Then, there was a knock on the door.

“Let’s get this show on the road,” I said confidently and yelled “coming,” as I got up from my couch.

“How are you enjoying your new place?” my relatives and close friends asked me after expressing their collective relief about how smoothly the move had gone.

“I love it!” I replied with a big smile on my face.

Then, I proudly showed off the fantastic views I now enjoyed from my living room and office/bedroom.

My dream of downsizing had not only become a reality, but I had also done it in record time. How? By fully embracing what Deepak Chopra had emphasized in his daily abundance meditations: to expect and accept abundance in my life while remembering that attention energizes and intention transforms.

 

Scheduling is everything

“Hello, I am calling to tell you about your upcoming PET scan,” a female voice said on the phone the very next day. I had been wondering for a while about this medical procedure my oncology radiologist had requested in mid-December.

“Your appointment is scheduled two weeks from today, on February 24, in the afternoon.”

“Really? But I am supposed to receive radiation therapy in town that day.”

The person on the other end ignored that piece of information in favour of providing me with detailed pre-arrival instructions. Specifically, neither food nor drink except for plain water were allowed for six hours prior to the appointment. I was also to rest for two full days beforehand, which included avoiding prolonged exposure to cold temperatures and exercise.

“No problem,” I said. Minus 40 degrees Celsius temperatures did not make me want to venture outside. I was, however, sad to have to cancel my daily workouts as they gave me much-needed energy.

“You must also avoid contact with pregnant women and children for at least two hours afterwards,” she reminded me.

“No worries,” I said.

Finally, she told me to contact them if I had to cancel because I was sick or because it was unsafe to travel.

My main guide then nudged me hard to ask her whether my radiation therapy appointment in town would be rescheduled to accommodate the PET scan appointment out of town.

“When do you start treatments?” she asked.

“A week from today.”

“What? But the PET scan needs to happen first!” she stated, clearly frustrated.

“I would not know anything about that,” I said. Had there been a serious miscommunication between hospitals, and would I somehow be blamed for it?

“I am going to contact your doctor about this right now,” she announced, sounding dead-serious. “And I will only call you back if the date and times I just gave you need to be changed.”

“Fine,” I replied and hung up shortly after.

Five minutes later the phone rang again.

“Can you make next Tuesday at 8 am work?” the same PET scan scheduler asked.

“I am not sure,” I said.

I was somewhat in shock about the sudden turn of events. My main guide promptly insisted I request an appointment later in the day.

“It will take us at least two and a half hours to get there, and the weather is still supposed to be bad next week,” I argued. I also made it crystal clear to her that I would not travel the day before and stay at a hotel overnight during a pandemic.

“Understood,” the scheduler said. “How about 11 am? You would need to arrive no later than 10:30 am to check in.”

“You got it,” I answered. After hanging up, I asked the universe for a small miracle in the transportation department.

First on my list of people with flexible schedules and cars that would start on chilly mornings was the retired couple who had helped me with setting up my TV. I had already tentatively checked with them in December, but would either one be available six days from now? If nothing else, the weather app on my phone suggested favourable driving conditions on that day.

“I can take you, Barb, no problem,” said the wife and laughed when she heard me breathe a heavy sigh of relief. “In fact, I will get in touch with my daughter today about going on a socially distanced walk with her while you are busy at the hospital.”

“Do you think we can meet up with my friend who looked after me when I was recovering from surgery?” I asked; I had introduced them to each other at the time.

“It will be lovely to see her again,” was my chauffeur’s reply.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” I said, close to tears.

How would I ever be able to repay her for her kindness?

 

It’s genetic

Interestingly, my hair decided to come “back with a vengeance” (to quote my trusted neighbour) while I was resting up for the PET scan appointment. My hairdresser’s expert advice had been to keep massaging my head to stimulate hair growth. The stubbles that appeared after the second chemotherapy treatment had soon begun to itch, and I could not help but scratch them.

Thankfully, the line of organic hair products I been using since early 2019 not only brought the desired relief, they also had been made specifically for the creator’s elderly mother, a fellow cancer survivor. Moreover, the shampoo and conditioner had made a huge difference to my hormonally challenged hair — and that of my twin sister who I talked into trying this line as well — especially during menopause.

However, neither of the products could reproduce my pre-chemotherapy hair colour of the past two decades, a subtle combination of dark blond, light brown, and copper red. “As a young professional, you do not want to look like our Oma, do you?” my sister in Germany had asked me in 2001 when I visited her prior to presenting at an international conference. She dragged me to a nearby hair salon, and after seeing the results I had to agree with her: I looked great, and there was no shame in hiding, or at least slowing down my genetic predisposition of going grey prematurely until I was ready to embrace it — whenever that would be, if ever, I had thought at the time.

My mom: not a white hair in sight!

Unlike my bad teeth and horrible eyesight, I could not blame my natural hair colour on my mother’s DNA. She had encountered so few white hairs during her 58 years of life that you could count them on both hands (see picture).

Now, to my surprise and secret delight, “Barb’s new sexy salt and pepper look” was a great hit with my relatives and close friends, and it required little to no effort on my part. Given that a polar vortex — or “deep freeze” as prairie folk like to call it — had been keeping the Canadian prairies in check for a while, I also very much welcomed an albeit short layer of hair for additional warmth.

On the long weekend before the upcoming appointment, I sorted through an old suitcase filled to the brim with old photo albums that I had retrieved from the back of my storage unit in the basement. Reliving three decades worth of memories reminded me not only that time flies, but also that it is a precious commodity. To that end, I promised myself — and my inner child — not to waste any more of our time together from now on.

Then, we figured out together which pictures were worth keeping and/or making digital copies of, and which ones should be shredded. In addition to choosing a few funny snapshots with relatives (“Were the boys really this little once?”), I opted in favour of important milestones such as graduating with a doctoral degree and becoming a Canadian citizen.

My most cherished pictures, though, showed non-relatives who had made a huge impact on my life. They ranged from supportive mentors and colleagues to special roommates, fellow students, and trusted neighbours. Several of them had passed away in the last five years, and I realized that I still missed them, some of them every day.

The night before the PET scan I also arrived at the conclusion that I felt so much lighter overall, and for good reason. I had already dropped a few pounds because my food cravings had decreased considerably since the last chemotherapy. Now I was shedding emotional weight that I had carried around with me for many years.

“Why didn’t I do this a long time ago?” I wondered. I set the alarm and went to sleep.

 

The bra-less life

My chauffeur-friend had brought extra pillows and a blanket, as I had requested, when she picked me up on February 16, 2021, at 7:30 am. Since I had been isolating since mid-December, we were going to be extra-careful while travelling together.

“Do you know how excited I am about today, even though it involves a hospital trip?” I mumbled into the two masks I had donned for added protection. “Thanks to multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a raging pandemic, I have not left the city since you, your hubby, and I went for a drive and walk on the Thanksgiving weekend in mid-October,” I reminded her.

Three seconds later, my phone dinged.

“I saw you leave; how are the roads?” my trusted neighbour asked.

“Not a problem; let’s hope there won’t be any highway closures to deal with,” I texted back.

After two and a half hours of solid driving at the posted 110 km/h speed limit, we arrived at the hospital. Complicated signage and a lack of knowledgeable people to ask for directions made it difficult to locate the entrance. The efficient hospital receptionist who checked me in at 10:25 am made up for it, however. She handed me a piece of paper that outlined how to find the PET scan department.

“Go past the Starbucks, turn left at the gift shop, and look for the elevator with the blue doors…,” it began. I concluded that a woman must have written these brilliant instructions and chuckled all the way as I found my way to the hospital’s basement.

“Please follow me,” a nurse said to me after she had introduced herself. “We are going to take your vitals first, then weigh you, and finally check your blood sugar,” she announced. My stomach promptly growled in response, as I had not had anything to eat for 15 hours. Then, my mind’s eye conjured up a huge stack of pancakes with maple syrup, whipped cream, and strawberries to remind me that it was, in fact, Shrove Tuesday of all days.

“Are you wearing anything with metal?” the nurse asked, rudely interrupting my food dreams as we walked to a different treatment room.

“I don’t think so,” I answered. “A bra without underwire is fine, right?”

“Yes, but if it has eyes and hooks, it needs to come off,” she insisted. It did before I took a seat in a reclining hospital chair a short while later. The nurse eventually reappeared and expertly inserted an IV needle to administer the dye.

“I’ll be back in three quarters of an hour when it’s time for your scan, which will take approximately 20 minutes — just relax until then,” she told me.

“Fine,” I thought.

I was going to have a long, nice chat with my body. “Thank you for keeping me alive all this time and cooperating so brilliantly, especially since the diagnosis,” I said to every single cell that was listening. Then, I apologized for mistakes of the past, which pleased my heart, mind, and soul.

Finally, I made a vow of sorts — from now on, I would carefully listen to my body and respond to its needs to the best of my abilities. I concluded that I was more ready than ever for whatever the universe had in store for me and felt amazingly energetic at the end of this meaningful exercise.

A different nurse, who turned out to be the PET scan technician, opened the door.

“You are not claustrophobic, are you?”

“No.”

“It will be over before you know it.”

I got on the movable exam table and was told to put my arms above my head and hold still the entire time. “I’ll put some pillows on either side of your face to help with that,” the technician said and did just that. I closed my eyes and started reciting my favourite German prayers. My clergy friend from Alberta had suggested I give it a try, and the repetition of familiar words helped me and my inner child to relax.

“All done,” the technician said 20 minutes later. I thanked him, went back to the other treatment room to put on my bra, and left the PET scan department. Curiously, the instructions I had been given when I checked in did not work in reverse: the elevator door refused to open. “This is my life in a nutshell,” I said and took the stairs instead.

My chauffeur was already waiting for me in front of the main outside entrance.

“I am officially starving,” I announced.

“Then let’s head to the burger drive-through right away,” she replied.

While she carefully exited the hospital parking lot via a steep downhill ramp, I texted my friend on our way there. I was thrilled that she was able to meet us. She arrived right after we had finished lunch in the car — I, for one, had savoured every single bite, knowing full well that fried foods and pelvic radiation treatments did not mix well.

Smile for the camera!

“It’s so good to see you,” I said. I was devastated that it was unsafe for me to embrace her because of my compromised immune system and pandemic restrictions. We chatted for a bit about how much we had missed each other while trying to keep warm at the same time. “How about a picture in which I hug you from behind to mark the occasion?” she suggested, and we both smiled for the camera.

Then, it was time to say goodbye. “We’ve got to get home before it gets dark, Barb!” said my chauffeur. I promptly got quite emotional. When would we see each other again in person?

An hour and a half later, we stopped because the gas tank needed filling. “You have been a real trooper today and deserve a sweet treat,” I was told and rewarded with a yummy ice cream sundae. That choice of dessert may seem counterintuitive in the middle of a Canadian prairie winter. But I felt toasty warm on the inside after what had turned out to be a lovely road trip.